|James Stewart in It's a Wonderful Life.|
Jimmy Stewart—he of It’s A Wonderful Life and The Philadelphia Story and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and more classics than I have italics—was once quoted by Peter Bogdanovich as having said the following:
"An’ that’s the thing—that’s the great thing about the movies…After you learn—and if you’re good and Gawd helps ya and you’re lucky enough to have a personality that comes across—then what you’re doing is…you’re giving people little…little, tiny pieces of time…that they never forget.”
God bless Jimmy Stewart.
And he was more right than he realized. Not only are the movies little tiny pieces of time that we never forget, the movies are little tiny pieces of time that we live through. When we watch movies, we aren’t just bearing witness to history, we’re making history of our own—through decisions and events and circumstances that take place as part of the overall moviegoing experience. In fact, many of us can probably construct a timeline of our lives using all of those Little Pieces.
My timeline begins in 1974, at the Route 202 Drive-in theater in West Chester, Pennsylvania. I’m in my jammies and in the back seat of a gigantic Ford Thunderbird (and really, were there any small Thunderbirds in the early '70s?). The night’s double feature begins with Herbie Rides Again. I fall asleep during intermission and never get to see what the grown-ups watch.
|Crowds lined up for Star Wars.|
Now, sometimes the memories of childhood are like the closets of childhood: messy to the point that you know what you are looking for is there, but you simply can’t find it and really wish you could.
|Montgomery and Loy in |
Now it’s 1982, and I’m an 8th-grader at Holy Rosary Catholic Elementary School. I’m in the auditorium for what will be the last time my friends wheel in a projector and play Free to Be, You and Me for the entire school. I’ve seen the thing a half-dozen times, but never with the weight of an era’s end hanging around my neck. I’m devastated to have to say goodbye to the babies one last time.
It’s 1984, and I watch my first ... hmm. Let’s just say that for as much as my memory fails me about Petticoat Fever, it fails me not when it comes to my first adult film. That night could be a column unto itself.
The Little Pieces Timeline continues to build and build, and behind every movie is a story of what happens around seeing the movie. And for every memory I share here, there are dozens I keep to myself not to horde them, but because I have to stop typing at some point. But please know I want to share them all.
|An engagement ring|
To the Little Piece. To the Little Piece. To the Little Piece. Until finally I have a fully-developed (yet far from complete) Little Pieces Timeline that rests with this Little Piece right now, my revisitation with you of some of my Little Pieces of Time.
Which brings us back to Jimmy Stewart, and the promise I made in the open that I would explain why he was my first-ever favorite actor.
It’s the Little Piece about my grandfather.
At some point in that big messy closet of my memory, my grandfather introduced me to and schooled me on the music of the Big Bands of his youth; in particular, the sounds of Glenn Miller and His Orchestra. With that education came repeated viewings of The Glenn Miller Story, starring Jimmy Stewart. It was through Stewart as Miller that my grandfather and I began a movie-based bond that ended not when he died, but when he was buried.
|The VHS cover for The|
Glenn Miller Story.
Between you and me, that’s a big Little Piece.
So, with one clever phrase, my first-ever favorite actor summarized my movie-going life in a way 1,000 or 10,000 or 100,000 words never could.
God bless Jimmy Stewart and his Little Pieces of Time.